This is the third time I’ve attended the World Economic Forum and, for all the talk of glitz and glamour, the word being mentioned most amongst new arrivals is: “snow”. There’s a lot of it.
Indeed an avalanche warning meant my train to Davos was halted and switched to replacement buses, weaving up the mountain.
I will eschew all but one of the many obvious metaphors. Yes, visibility out of the blizzard will be a key determinant of whether Davos 2018 is a success.
The headline-grabbing chatter at the WEF is of the all-woman chairing panel, a debate already raging about the future of work and the imminent arrival of Macron, Modi and Trump.
For the accountancy profession, Davos forms the opportunity to gauge current trends – and to shape future ones.
For the International Integrated Reporting Council, it is an important showcase for how that future might look.
For us, there will be a heavy emphasis on our role in supporting the business contribution to (and reporting of) the Sustainable Development Goals.
As well as taking part in the concluding event for the Business Commission for Sustainable Development which has set the agenda globally, we will be taking part in three specific meetings on how this impacts on Boards, on global value chains and on applying the concept of ‘integration’ itself.
The IIRC is collaborating with the Big Four accountancy companies, GRI and with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in Davos this week. Partnership is at the heart of our combined success and we are grateful to all of these organizations.
Today, it will see us take part in a follow-up meeting with WBCSD from Davos last year, on a project we are supporting on the concept of integrated risk management.
This is all-the-more apposite when the ‘Global Risks Report 2018’ published to coincide with this Forum, warns of indebtedness, unsustainable asset prices, a doubling of cybersecurity attacks and still rising environmental risk.
However, the first talk of this year’s Forum, albeit in hushed tones, is one of resurgent economic confidence.
Last year, the Edelman Trust Barometer – also published at Davos each year – recorded the biggest ever drop in trust in business. Yesterday, this year’s survey revealed to the WEF a seven point recovery in support for business.
Within this, there is an interesting lesson for accountants in rising support for “credentialised sources”, against the rising-mistrust in ‘fake news’, social media platforms and even in personal contacts.
This was on the same day that the IBM Chair and Chief Executive used the WEF Forum to call for a new era of ‘data responsibility’, warning that “we mustn’t confuse data with wisdom.”
Meanwhile, the cautious optimism was reflected by Managing Director Christine Lagarde also speaking yesterday in Davos, who told participants here that positive global growth projections should make us “encouraged if not yet satisfied.”
There are those amongst the proponents of integrated reporting internationally, who suggest that it is more difficult to move to the broader, longer-term vision of business in hard economic times.
I have never accepted that argument personally: Long-term change is happening in the world and the longer the world fails to change with it, the harder (and costlier) it becomes.
However, a recovery in optimism removes one potential barrier to change.
The title accorded to this year’s WEF, repeated on backcloths, billboards and banners across the mountain here in Switzerland, is “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.”
It is easy to pay lip service to the concept of sharing, much more difficult to decide the size of the slice, much better if the cake is bigger for everyone.
That is the mission for integrated reporting, this week and for the future.
As I write, my next meeting is being hosted by the UN’s World Food Programme.
Now that really is appropriate.
Richard Howitt is Chief Executive Officer of the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) and will blog daily from Davos 2018 for the International Accounting Bulletin and The Accountant.